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California: Desert Syphilis Rate Soaring

July 20, 2007

In 2006, Coachella Valley reported California's second-worst syphilis rate with 11 cases per 100,000 population, trailing only San Francisco's rate of 33 cases per 100,000. Local health officials cited as potential causes prevention fatigue, HIV treatment optimism, and illegal drug use -- primarily methamphetamine use among gay men.

The Riverside County Department of Public Health (RCDPH) reported 144 syphilis cases in 2006, up from 107 cases in 2005 and just 17 in 2001. If new monthly reports continue at their average of 18 cases, the county would report more than 200 syphilis cases this year.

"If we kept that rate, yes, we will have a higher number; but I don't think we will," said Barbara Cole, a nurse and director for RCDPH disease control.

Riverside County, which did not even rank among US counties with high syphilis rates in 2000, now ranks the fourth-highest in the state. Reporting more cases are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego counties.

Syphilis is especially worrisome for Riverside and San Bernardino counties, since it facilitates HIV transmission and the region has the nation's fifth-highest concentration of residents with HIV. In addition, 93 percent of Riverside County syphilis diagnoses were in males. Of Riverside syphilis cases, more than 60 percent have been in the valley in recent years. In the valley, about 72 percent of cases in 2006 were men who have sex with men.

"I think it has a lot to do with Palm Springs being known as a gay mecca," said Arturo Hernandez, director of education with the city's Desert AIDS Project.

Back to other news for July 2007

Adapted from:
Desert Sun (Palm Springs)
07.16.2007; Nicole C. Brambila

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Syphilis -- a Dreadful Disease on the Move
Syphilis Fact Sheet
Basic Questions and Answers About Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)
More Statistics on Syphilis in Western U.S. States